Since the Rangers earned back-to-back shootout victories against Washington and Atlanta on January 22 and 24, they’ve dropped ten of fourteen games, earning just nine of a possible 28 points. Of those ten losses, eight have been by one goal, while the other two were one-goal games until their opponent added an empty-netter late in the third period. And so as the Rangers lose frustrating game after frustrating game — and as they fall closer and closer to ninth place — the failure to net just one more critical goal on a nightly basis is becoming as maddening as the larger flaws of this year’s club.
Obviously, these things are related. The big picture issues have been identified to death — better starts so as to avoid the need for third-period rallies, a more consistent power play, more wins at home, more scoring in general, etc. — and improvement in certain areas would eliminate the need to come from behind every night. But that’s the reality the Rangers create for themselves, and despite it, they’ve had a real chance to win every night for two months now.
Once again last night, they had opportunities: Consider Matt Gilroy hitting the goal post; or Derek Stepan, with an empty net in front of him, firing a one-timer into Ryan Miller coming across the crease; or Mats Zuccarello’s inability to elevate the puck over Miller on his golden chance with a minute left; or Miller blindly swiping a loose puck away from the goal earlier in the period. Credit Miller for last night, obviously, but over the past month, games like this have become all too common: Fall behind, show signs of life, ultimately lose, and repeat.
And the 3–2 loss to Buffalo wasn’t the only blow to the Rangers positioning in the East: Montreal and Carolina won, too, which puts the Rangers five points out of sixth, one point ahead of eighth, and three points ahead of the ninth-place Sabres, who have three games in hand. Losses this season — one in which the organization is giving its kids a chance to develop — have been a bit easier to accept than they have been in previous years, especially on nights on which the Rangers play without their top defenseman and most dynamic scorer. But that doesn’t make this unusual string of tight-game losses any less frustrating.